I’d never thought much about visiting Copenhagen, but as I was sitting in a long and boring lecture I found myself day dreaming of being somewhere else. Naturally, I wandered onto Google Flights searching for a destination I could visit between school ending and work starting. It was then that I came across an amazing seat sale for Toronto-Reykjavik-Copenhagen. Maybe I have a subconscious attraction to Viking History or maybe the mundanity of the class drove me to impulsivity, but regardless of the reason by the time I left the class I had purchased my flights. I was going to Copenhagen.
Well, more specifically I was going to Europe. Copenhagen was just a launch pad. I didn’t have the time or funds to explore Denmark’s dramatic landscapes and rugged wilderness, so I only gave myself three days in the country, long enough to get a feel for Copenhagen without lingering in a bustling tourist city unnecessarily.
To my surprise, there were virtually no tourists. I never waited in line and no one tried to sell me anything on the streets (two of the reasons I don’t like cities). The only tourists I saw were backpackers like myself at the hostel (shameless plug, the Downtown Copenhagen hostel remains the best hostel I have ever stayed in).
Copenhagen continued to surprise me throughout my short visit. No, it wasn’t the remote wilderness I was typically drawn to, but it was a city with colourful character. People were always friendly and happy to help, the museums were actually interesting and made history easy to understand, and the architecture had a humble beauty to it.
I did not expect to love a city I had so easily overlooked. Even for the culturally-challenged-outdoorsy type, Copenhagen has something wonderful to offer. So what did I do that made it such a great time? Read on!
Not-so-touristy touristy things
Before I arrived, I bought a 48 hour Copenhagen Card for about $125 CAD, which felt pricy at the time but I was up for a fast paced two days so I thought it could be worth it (you can also do 24-, 96- and 120 hour cards). You get free admission to over 70 attractions, discounts at some restaurants and free public transportation. Here’s all that I did with my card:
Canal Tour: After settling into my hostel, I began my 48 hours at about 3 pm with a boat tour. I actually preferred this tour to the one I’d later do in Amsterdam because you don’t stay in canals but get into the harbour as well.
National Museum: A short walk from the hostel, this museum is really interesting (and I don’t love museums). I skipped over everything renaissance and focused on the Stone Age, Bronze Age and the Vikings which was sick! It was all super cool and easy to digest.
Church of Our Saviour: I started the next day with a walk up this tower for an amazing view of the city. The last bit is a helix staircase along the outside of the tower. I was alone on the tower for most of it and then was joined by just one other person.
H. C. Andersen Fairy Tale Museum: H. C. Andersen is the mind behind the original fairytales The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, and more. His fairytales are much darker than your modern Disney flick and the museum is worth a quick visit.
The Danish Jewish Museum: Denmark has an interesting history in World War 2. A German diplomat leaked word that Hitler was to order the arrest and deportation of Danish Jews. With the help of the Danish and Swedish governments, the Jewish Community and non-Jewish Danes, 7,220 of 7800 Danish Jews made it to safety in Sweden. This is a short, short, short recap and the museum does an amazing job of telling the entire story!
Using my card, I also went to Tivoli Gardens and the Frederiksborg Castle, which I’ve written about below. There were other museums, an aquarium, art galleries and more towers I could have visited for free admission, but I met up with a friend living in the city in the early afternoon on the last day, so I didn’t use about 6 hours of my card. Plus, I spent a lot of time just walking around the city, so in hindsight I could have done the 24 hour card and saved $30 but oh well. I did find the card gave me a push to get up early and squeeze in as much as I could to get my money’s worth. This site has a list of all attractions which is worth reading through.
It’s “NEW-how” not “nee-HAY-vin”
Nyhavn is probably the most photographed place in Copenhagen and I came across it unexpectedly while walking between other destinations. Beware with pronunciation! Do not try to sound it out. I’m terrible with foreign pronunciation and just about everyone commented on my feeble attempts to say this place.
It’s definitely beautiful, especially when it’s sunny, though there isn’t much to do or see. I was first there on an overcast Friday morning though, so maybe it was just bad timing. I walked the perimeter of the harbour, took some photos and continued walking.
Cafe Hotel Chocolat: I love chocolate and this place did not disappoint. Look at this hot chocolate. They melted their own premium chocolate, mixed it with hot milk and added homemade chocolate whipped cream on top (the card gets you 10% off).
Carlsberg Brewery: The Copenhagen card gets you free admission (otherwise, it’s 100 DKK) into the Carlsberg Brewery and I added on a beer tasting and guided tour for an additional 127 DKK (about $28 CAD). The tour is super interesting and the beer servings are almost too generous(i.e. I actually got kind of drunk). Typically beer tastings groups are 12-16 people, I was told, but there were only 5 of us and we were the last tour of the day so we drank more than our fair share of beers. The brewery is impressive on a number of fronts so if beer is at all your thing, it’s definitely worth a stop. It’s a little out of the way, but there’s a shuttle from central Copenhagen to the place.
Casual Cannabis in Christiania: The first time I walked through Christiania, it was a cloudy Friday morning. I was the only one in sight and had no idea it was anything other than a colourfully odd park. Upon returning on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I didn’t understand what all the commotion was about.
Turns out Christiania is not a quaint park to stroll through at all, but a “self-proclaimed autonomous anarchist district” alive with people from all walks of life and the sweet smell of cannabis in the air. Although weed is technically illegal in Denmark, it’s openly sold in Christiania.
Oh and apparently a big “don’t” is taking pictures. I learned all this when I walked through Saturday afternoon. I returned again that evening to get a sense of the scene and there were casual bars and great food around.
Paper Island: A walk around the harbour brought me to Paper Island. Huge warehouses used to hold paper for print press, but nowadays there are cute shops and street food. I was in Copenhagen on the first warm, sunny Saturday of the year and the place was packed with Danes. It was a great place to hangout with friends.
All Ages Raving in Tivoli Gardens: I don’t like amusement parks and I only went here because admission was free with my card and I heard there was to be live music in the evening. The place was surprisingly beautiful at night. I was expecting some local band for the live music, but as I was standing in front of a huge, elevated stage with a few hundred kids, parents, couples and seniors, I was shocked at the large DJ screens and raging EDM music that was to follow. I was fist bumping with 8 year old kids and 80 year old grannies!
Frederiksborg Castle: I took (free) public transport out of central Copenhagen to see this beautiful castle. The card let me enter the castle ground and gardens for free, but there was an additional cost to go inside the castle. It was such a beautiful, sunny day and I don’t care too much for castle furnishings so I stayed outside. In my opinion, the better sight is along a bike path that surrounds the lake.
Visiting the castle and walking around the lake on the bike path was a nice break from the city – I got some much needed vitamin D and fresh air. I’ve heard there are actually quite a few castles not far from Copenhagen, but I didn’t get to the others on this trip.
Botanical Gardens: On my final morning I visited the Botanical Gardens. The gardens cover 10 hectares and feature 27 beautiful greenhouses, the most famous being the Palm House from 1874.
Torvehallerne: I actually only came across this market because I was searching for a washroom. It’s a hugely popular market so I’m surprised I didn’t hear about it before. I’m glad I did find it though – there were so many stalls with quirky items for sale, delicious food and more. I had to get back to the hostel to grab my bag and head to the airport, so I didn’t spend nearly as much time here as I would have liked to.
All in all, Copenhagen was a wonderful city to visit. I didn’t get to everything, but I think I made a decent effort of seeing as much as possible (I must have, I walked 24+ km each day).
So that’s Copenhagen for the outdoorsy type! If you’ve been to Copenhagen and have comments, suggestions or stories, I’d love to hear about them. Leave a comment below or contact me.